Geneva, March 09, 2013 (PPI-OT): The International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) and International Council for Human Rights (ICHR) hosted a daylong conference entitled “Protecting and Promoting Women Rights at the sidelines of the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The conference explored international women’s human rights issues in general and in conflict areas in particular and the applicable international legal framework, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the context of violence against women, rape, and women human rights defenders.
Speakers included Barrister Abdul Majeed Tramboo, Chairman of ICHR and IHRAAM’s Permanent Representative to the UN, H.E. Mrs Anglica C. Navarro Llanos, Ambassador Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the UN, Ms Isha Dyfan, Chief of Women’s Rights and Gender Section in the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Krishna Ahoojapatel, Permanent Representative of WILPF to the UN, Professor Melissa Rancourt, Founder of Greenlight for Girls and the Head of Faculty – Boston University, Professor Fozia Nazir Lone, Women’s Rights Expert – University Hong Kong, Neil Buhne, Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recover,
Professor Frances Heidensohn, Gender and Justice Expert – LSE, Dr Lale Say, World Health Organisation, Mrs Shamim Shawl, Chairperson – Kashmiri Women’s Forum, Dr Emma Brnnlund, NUI Galway University, Ms Mary-Ann Mills, Vice Chair the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Dr Suzanne M Clisby, University of Hull, Princess Micheline Djouma, President and Main Representative International OCAPROCE, Professor Veerle Draulans, Gender Studies – University of Leuven, Ms Sylvia MacAdam, Co-Founder of Idle No More, Dr Mareike Schomerus, The Justice and Security Research Programme – LSE, and Dr Mazahir Osman, Chairperson of the International Muslim Women’s Union.
Chairing the opening plenary, Barrister Abdul Majeed Tramboo outlined the dedicated work undertaken by the UN and its agencies and by NGOs over the last decade in providing care and sexual health support on the ground, raising global awareness, pursuing ground-breaking legal cases and working with member states to frame vital UN Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security, including Resolutions 1325 and 1820.
However, he stressed that tackling sexual violence is central to conflict prevention and human rights fundamental worldwide and stressed that violence against women must be an urgent priority to the international community. And it also cannot be separated from wider issues of women’s rights. He expressed concerns of the chilling reports of rape in Kashmir, Syria, Palestine, Dalits, indigenous peoples and many other conflict areas along with the murder, torture and repression of thousands of innocent civilians.
H.E. Mrs. Navarro Llanos commended the work undertaken by the office of the UNHCHR, and gave examples about her country’s experience of discrimination against indigenous peoples, women in particular. She highlighted the importance impact of democracy on improving women’s rights.
Ms. Isha Dyfan said the Security Council held an open meeting in December to discuss sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and it expressed deep concern that such violence continued to occur, becoming in some situations systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.
The Council also unanimously adopted resolution 1960 which allowed the Secretary General to supply it with detailed information on parties credibly suspected of responsibility for patterns of sexual violence during armed conflict. The Council expressed its intention to use such a list of perpetrators as a basis for action, including the consideration of sanctions and other targeted measures.
Chairing the first session, Dr Krishna Ahoojapatel appreciated the holding of this conference and said that usually human rights are discussed in general, yet we fail to acknowledge the women’s human rights. She congratulated the organisers for bringing together a wide-range of experts of women’s human rights from different part of the world.
Professor Fozia Nazir Lone stressed that efforts should be encouraged to incorporate women rights concerns at each stage of pre-conflict agreement negotiations so that women rights concerns appear bold in the post-conflict reform when the time comes.
Time has come to divorce patriarchal morals in the management of Kashmir conflict and make it gender oriented so that women are protected. She went on explaining the issue of women in Kashmir as a pre-conflict case study, she concluded that it is time to effect a revolution for protection of Kashmiri women in never ending conflict, it is an hour to re-establish their lost dignity and giving a voice to their silence. Re-establishing them as actors in pre-agreement conflicts resolution rather than just visualizing them as victims of violence.
Dr Lale Say presented the latest work undertaken by World Health Organisation and said that violence against women was a widespread public health and human rights problem and had multiple health, social and economic consequences for the individual, families, communities and society.
Professor Frances Heidensohn focused on women and justice, particularly women’s experiences of criminal justice. She outlined some key questions and proposed possible solutions for inclusion in an agenda for change.
Judge Mary-Ann Mills highlighted that Alaska has been overlooked by the world as it struggles with very high rates of violence against women and described it as a crime scene. Around one third of all women have been raped. She went on describing that Alaskan women have among the highest rate of sexual violence. She spoke about how in order to stop atrocities against indigenous women we must have absolute self-determination and self-determination placed at the top of the Human Rights Council agenda.
Dr Suzanne M Clisby provided her own definition of violence against women as a continuum for minor acts to major acts of violence during conflict. She said that we need to look closely at patriarchal societal norms to analyze what the relationship between gender and power is. She described it as relations embedded in society, and notes a rise in gender issues, noticed also a shift from denial of violence to an acceptance that it exists, noted that violence is underpinned by gender differences.
Professor Veerle Draulans believes media should be stimulated to reflect the crucial contribution in spreading messages related to women’s rights and to gender related violence. She recommended media not to limit themselves to portray the female body as a signifier of subordination but should portray it as a signifier of resistance.
Chairing the second session, Professor Melissa Rancourt stressed on the need to work together to help inspire and build confidence in girls so they don’t feel like they are a burden, to help them believe that they deserve to be educated and to be treated the same as anyone in society. She recommended the creation of an education programme to teach the importance of equal rights, to instil confidence and the importance of role models and to inspire children around the world that anything is possible.
Mr. Neil Buhne highlighted the continued support of UNDP/BCPR to women’s access to justice, especially survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. He stressed that any serious shift towards sustainable development requires gender equality.
Representing Kashmiri Women’s Forum, Mrs Shamim Shawl outlined that there have been many reports of mass rapes carried out by Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, which marked the escalation of conflict in the region. Rape most often occurs during crackdowns; cordon and search operations where men are held for identification in parks or schoolyards while security forces search their homes. In these situations, the security forces frequently engage in collective punishment against the civilian population.
Rape is used as a means of targeting women whom the security forces accuse of being militant sympathisers; in raping them, the armed forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community. Rapes are often used as counter attacks to militant strikes on the Indian army. She gave as examples the gang rape of the Kunan Poshpora tragedy and the Shopian double rape and murder case.
Dr Mareike Schomerus outlined that there is a disconnection between the political aim and programs and the everyday situations that women face. She emphasised that the base of gender discrimination is the notion of muscularity in the society.
Dr Emma Brnnlund elaborated on the situation in Kashmir. She explained how the state of insecurity in the region has affected women’s situation as well as how gender discourses fuel the conflict. She gave details on how conflict affects women and men differently and how in Kashmir women have been incorporated in nationalist, anti-Indian discourse hence the symbolic inclusion of women as weeping mothers, innocent victims or motherland is often used to legitimise nationalism, war and violence.
Brnnlund explained that sex and sexual violence are very prevalent despite the fact that there are no reliable statistics, this leading to a desecration of the honour of woman and the family; additionally, sexual harassment and eve teasing occurs on everyday life.
Dr Mazahir Osman emphasised that women in conflict areas are the most vulnerable of all, especially when concerning discrimination and violations of rights. She focused on combating violence against women minorities, as well as the role of media and how it can help to expose violations at the national and international level.
Ms Sylvia McAdams focused on the current situation in Canada. She explained that the spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples in Canada would share the land while retain their inherent rights to lands and resource. However this has not occurred and the taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned. This has affected negatively the communities’ life style in the light of their own laws, thus obstructing people’s exercise of their rights, especially women who need the land for medical purposes.
Princess Djouma emphasized that violence against women are the most frequent and most pernicious matter of violation of human rights and stated that sexual violence and rape are considered the most undeclared crimes in the world.
Furthermore, she indicated that genital mutilation is one of the many violence acts against young women and girls which leads to health problems, not only physical ones but also philological, and that it increases according to specialists the risk of HIV infection. She stressed the crucial fact that despite the several international declarations there is still a lack of the necessary political initiative and will to tackle these violations.
In the closing plenary, under the chairmanship of Barrister Tramboo, the two Rapporteurs briefed the Chief of Women’s Rights and Gender Section in the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Isha Dyfan, about the recommendations that came from the two sessions and which would be formally submitted to her for the consideration of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the President of the Human Rights Council.
Ms Dyfan appreciated that IHRAAM and ICHR organised such conference, and said that she will submit all the recommendations to the High Commissioner for Human Right for her attention.
Barrister Tramboo expressed his gratitude to all distinguished guests, and the huge amount of expertise that was concentrated in the conference and announced the closing of the conference.
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